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Shashi Tharoor and his circuitous ways with the English language
Latest gem from Shashi Tharoor: "To all the well-meaning folks who send me parodies of my supposed speaking/writing style: The purpose of speaking or writing is to communicate w/ precision. I choose my words because they are the best ones for the idea I want to convey, not the most obscure or rodomontade ones!" .......More on this later!

My generation must be last to have been schooled under the British. King George VI was then the Emperor of the Domain and we 'Brown Sahebs' were taught King's English at school and listened to BBC at home, not so much for the news but to emulate their accent. 

Such anglicised Indians were often derided as 'Macaulay's Children'. They were more at home with Shakespeare than with Kalidas. Indians were good learners and often outdid their rulers, when it came to English usage. 

During the freedom struggle and later too, the abrasive VK Krishna Menon was known to have 'taught the white man his place', thanks to his oratorical skills. Once a heckler in England butted in with, 'Mr Menon, what do you mean? Could you please explain it again?' Enraged, Menon retorted, 'The trouble with you Englishmen is that you never had to learn English. I had to learn it!' 

Also during our freedom struggle when it came to oratory in English, the world recognised that the two adversaries Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and Sir Winston Churchill were also by far the best orators and writers of the 20th century. While their words could stir entire nations to action, they never sent you scurrying to the dictionary. 

In the summer of 1940, when Britain was demoralised by the unrelenting bombing ('Blitzkrieg') over London by the Nazis, Churchill the newly appointed Prime Minister, turned the tide by his impassioned speech. Some of his most remembered lines of the day were: 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering. …..Wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.'

It is no exaggeration, that with these simple stirring words Churchill led his nation to victory. Similarly, Nehru's resounding 'tryst with destiny' speech delivered at the midnight of 15th August 1947, with the following opening lines has become a part of history: 

'Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?'

Also, whatever Mahatma Gandhi wrote went straight to your heart and stirred us to action. His vocabulary was extremely simple and he could coin evocative words like 'Himalayan blunder'. The point being made here is that, whether it be the romantic Nehru, or the feisty Churchill or the abrasive VK Krishna Menon, they used simple though sometimes flashy words. But one never had to consult the dictionary. 

Now coming to the affable debonair Shashi Tharoor, I must admit that I enjoy his well researched books, his encyclopaedic memory, his sharp wit and his gift of the gab. He has a vocabulary which will confound the editors of the Oxford, Merriam Webster and Collins dictionaries, all put together. Sometimes I wonder, if his fellow parliamentarians are able to decipher their young colleague! 

I do not have to keep the dictionary by my side, when reading Tharoor's books. But when he strides into the Twitter domain, he overawes me with his mastery of the eminently forgettable and unpronounceable words! The quote from him at the beginning of this article uses the word 'rodomontade'. My dictionary informs me that Rodomonte was a character in a 15th century poem and the word 'rodomontade' has come to mean, 'pretentious bragging or bluster'! In his quest to be precise, Tharoor has left us impressed with the linguistic armoury at his command, but none the wiser!

Similarly on Twitter, Shashi Tharoor had lashed out at a TV anchor with: "Exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations & outright lies being broadcast by an unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalist."

The dictionary informs me that the word 'farrago' is of Latin origin, meaning 'cattle fodder'. By now it has come to mean 'confusing mix, haphazard', etc. Thanks Shashi, for once again teaching us a new word. But I wonder if I will ever come across this word again!

You say, 'The purpose of speaking or writing is to communicate with precision'. But your precision does leave your Twitter followers quite wobbly!

Your fellow Malayalee, VK Krishan Menon as cited above had 'taught the white man his place' with his English oratory. Two generations later, you seem to be the next one who can teach the Brits a lesson or two!

So do continue, for you never fail to impress and amuse us!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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